Wounded warriors help cancer survivor cycle to recovery

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Michael Sanders
  • 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center
Last week, I hit the 2.5 year mark of being cancer free, and in that time I have been learning to accept the "new normal" that comes with that. Not everything will be as it was, but I do know that the Air Force that I serve in will be there to ensure I'm taken care of.

Earlier this year, I was selected to participate in the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., which was the military's first Paralympic-style competition of nine sports. Initially, I thought running would be my sport, but during preparation for the games, recumbent cycling unexpectedly made its way into my life.

After training hard for about three weeks, I lined up at the starting line and prayed that I would do well. That day, I crossed the finish line first! Not only that, I met several members of organizations that offer opportunities for wounded warriors -- servicemembers who have been wounded, ill, or injured and are still in rehabilitation or recovering.

That day changed my life, and I have now ridden a recumbent trike in the Ride 2 Recovery "Memorial Challenge" and the "Sea to Shining Sea Ride." Each ride was extremely special and fulfilling as each captured the essence of the commitment, dedication and courage of wounded warriors. Each ride demonstrated one can recover and persevere as long as they are committed to a cause.

John Wordin is one man who helps ensure wounded warriors have a cause to commit to. After winning gold at the games, John told me he wanted me to participate in the "Memorial Challenge." I knew nothing about it, but asked him to work it out with the Air Force Wounded Warriors folks, which he did. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I'm thankful it happened.

The Ride 2 Recovery program is about getting wounded warriors up and in the fight again. It's about rehabilitation and recovery. It's open to any servicemember, and it's centered around riding bikes and trikes. The "Memorial Challenge" was a six-day ride that covered more than 350 miles and started in Arlington, Va., on Memorial Day. It was amazing to ride past Arlington National Cemetery and think of all those who committed to a cause and died serving our country.

As I looked around to see the guys and gals who were committing to this ride, I thought about how they have served their country as well. Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, must have thought about that too before he spoke and encouraged us as we began our journey to Virginia Beach, Va. It was an honor to meet with him.

During the "Sea to Shining Sea Ride," a cross-country ride with 18 riders covering 4,000 miles in 63 days, I only rode for one day, the Fourth of July, with my good friend Staff Sgt. Marc Esposito, whom I met at the Warrior Games.
Marc is a warrior. He survived an Afghan insurgent's homemade bomb that shattered his lower legs and broke his back.

As we made stops along the way of our 35-mile day into Bloomington, Ill., I was reminded of how committed and dedicated he was to the calling of encouraging other wounded warriors. His dedication to bike across the country is about more than just himself. He tells the message of dedicating time and committing to a cause in hopes of encouraging others, specifically fellow wounded warriors.

To him, if just one Wounded Warrior sees him doing this ride and was encouraged to get out and get back on their feet, then that's what it's all about. But it also takes more than commitment and dedication to completing the journey; it takes courage.

As I rode along during both of these events, my thoughts turned to whether I had the courage to even complete something like this. I had never ridden a bike for so long. I remember being extremely nervous during the fourth day of the "Memorial Challenge" -- it was a more than 70-mile ride. By God's good grace, I had many other warriors surrounding me and encouraging me.

One such person was Nate Hunt, who lost both his legs in service to America. This guy has courage. He rides a hand cycle and can ride down a hill so fast. He helped me realize that I was stronger than I thought. He helped me be courageous in my recovery process. We traveled together most of the journey that week, and I was truly inspired by the perseverance of all these men and women.

Perseverance is such an amazing thing. It has been said that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. I can honestly say without a doubt there are many men and women in this military who demonstrate those qualities.

As I witnessed the commitment, dedication and courage it took to persevere through these bike rides and hear the stories of so many who have suffered and are recovering, I thought about how much of an honor it was to be amongst, them to ride with them, while I'm going through my own rehabilitation and recovery.

I encourage you to continue to persevere in your struggles and your character will be molded. But most importantly, your character will bring hope to so many just as my fellow wounded warriors encourage others to get back in the fight.